6 practical tips for surviving overseas relocation with kids

We opened the door to our new home, stepped inside and began to explore. An angry little voice said: Is this it? Our real house is better. It broke my heart.

6 PRACTICAL TIPS FOR SURVIVING overseas relocation with kids

Overseas relocation is tough. Overseas relocation with kids is even harder.

You leave behind all that is familiar, to start again. As an adult you can understand and rationalise what is to come, but for a child who has been taken away from family, friends, school, home, bedroom; it’s really hard.

They don’t believe that they’ll have fun visiting new places and trying new things.

They don’t believe that they’ll make friends or enjoy a new school; that swimming lessons will be the same or they’ll like the food.

Our sons were six and three years old, and our daughter four months old, when we moved from the UK to the US. I won’t lie, it was hard work, but there are simple, practical ways to ease the transition.


1. Talk to them, and listen

Before, during and after! Your children will need reassurance and although they may ignore you, fight with you and contradict you, it will help in the long run.

Tell them about the country you are moving to. Talk about things that will be different, and things that will be the same. Talk about the weather! Show them pictures, read guide books with them. Be excited and enthusiastic; let your attitude be their guide.

We found the move was hardest, emotionally, on our eldest son. For the first few months he was mainly angry. He hated the house. He hated his new bedroom. He hated the hot weather. He hated the cheese, and the baked beans. He was lonely and upset, and frightened by the huge change in our lives.

The only way through this initial period of adjustment, both before and after the move itself, is to keep communication open. Give advice, comfort, information; be honest and open. Where appropriate, allow them to be part of decisions. And remember, sometimes all your child needs is the validation that comes from being listened to and understood.

2. Make your house feel like home

Take what you can with you to create a familiar space for your children when you arrive. Younger children especially will find the transition much easier if their favourite toys and books are where they expect them to be.

We made sure that the kids possessions took priority when we were packing. Our initial shipment contained their books, toys and clothes along with a selection of family photographs.

When we moved into our new home we focused on decorating their bedrooms and unpacking their boxes; creating a safe and recognisable environment for them.

3. Keep routines and rules the same

Stick to normal routines and rules as much as possible. Don’t over compensate and allow them to get away with behaviour you wouldn’t at home. I found this hard as I knew the root cause of the behaviour was sadness and frustration and I made allowances that I ultimately had to ‘fix’.

Our natural instinct as parents is to protect and soothe, but the extra treats, the relaxation of rules, the second (and third) warnings, will ultimately come back to bite you and will in fact reinforce the feelings of insecurity caused by the change.

4. Source familiar foods

Even the least fussy of eaters will be resistant to familiar foods when they taste a little different. Our children particularly disliked American cheese, baked beans and sausages. Don’t force the issue, their tastes will gradually change. And, if need be, accept that you have to buy really expensive imported baked beans for a while.

When everything else is different, a taste of home can be remarkably comforting. Allow yourself the odd treat too!

5. Make friends

We moved during summer vacation and it was a long six weeks before school started again. The change in behaviour and attitude once the boys were back at school was marked. Feeling alone and isolated is natural when in a new place and the structure and social environment of school goes a long way towards easing those feelings. Getting into a routine and making new friends will make the transition far easier. Do sports and activities after school. Encourage play dates, engineer them if you have to!

For younger children, local parks and the library are great places to meet other families with toddlers.

Volunteer at the school, offer to help at events, get involved in the PTO. If you have a baby, join the local mums group, take classes, sign up for infant swim lessons; whatever you feel comfortable with. But, most importantly, be proactive!

You need friends too, don’t forget yourself as you focus on your children, and making friends with other parents has the added bonus of making friends for your children as well.

6. Keep in touch

Make sure your older children write letters, emails, cards to friends back home. Skype and FaceTime are wonderful for keeping in touch with friends and family. For younger children, seeing family faces is a huge bonus.

My daughter was too young when we left to recognise her grandparents. FaceTime has allowed her to get to know them and to feel comfortable. Seeing her run to them on a family visit, despite not having seen them in person for a year, is truly wonderful. For her and, as importantly, for her grandparents.

Don’t make light of the distance, an ocean makes a spontaneous play date impossible, but help them to understand that there are so many ways to stay connected. We live in a world where our friends don’t always live around the corner.


 

Relocating; whether to the next town, other end of the country or across the sea; is daunting and scary and hard work. But it is also challenging, exciting and life changing.

Grab every opportunity your move brings you. It’s an adventure, so make the most of it.

And, above all, remember that home is more about the people around you than a place, and in our virtual world distance isn’t necessarily measured in miles.
 

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20 thoughts on “6 practical tips for surviving overseas relocation with kids”

  1. We’re hoping to relocate in the next few months (technically to another country, although Scotland to England is quite the same thing!) and these are really useful tips, even though perhaps a few of them won’t apply to us. Happily for us we will be moving nearer to Grandparents not further away so that should help.

    1. Yes, hopefully you won’t have too much trouble finding baked beans :) But any move brings upheaval and change, we certainly found that keeping as much as possible ‘normal’ helped a great deal x

    1. I have to admit that it probably took me longer to settle than the others, but the kids were always our priority. Making friends is so important, for them and us x

    1. That’s exciting, but definitely a daunting thing to do! We didn’t get it all right at first, and we learnt as we went along (and I’m glad that we didn’t have language to deal with too!), but there are ways to make it easier on everyone x

  2. Wonderful advice Sara. I have to say reading this genuinely gave me a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about having to move with the boys (will happen some day I’m sure!) and I felt so sad for your little guy being so upset about the move. I have to say it also brought back memories to my 17year old self moving to America and feeling quite negative about it (didn’t last long!!)
    Thanks for linking this to #myexpatfamily I’m sure this post will come in really handy for all families relocating with kids! X

    1. I think the important thing to remember is that, certainly in our experience, the negativity passes. Having been through it though, there are definitely things we can do to ease the transition x

  3. I always talk about being an expat and moving around to be part of the package – but if I’m honest my last move was done when my kids were tiny and we were feeling adventurous. We now have roots in our expat home, routine, friends and quite frankly its not expat life. Just life. There will be a day when we need to move though and I just don’t know how each of our children would emotional cope, thanks for this guide. #myexpatfamily

    1. You are absolutely right, I wrote about that a while ago, that while we (the adults) might think of ourselves as expats once you have kids and roots wherever you are, you live there – for our kids it’s just normal life. We found that our younger two moved easily, but the transition was hard on our eldest. Communication is key x

  4. Hi from Spain! Great tips! I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to sourcing familiar foods and making your house feel like home. Its the little details that make children feel secure when they move to a new country. It’s hard in the first year, but as long as you keep a routine and still do the ‘normal’ things that you use to do then the transition will be a little bit easier. :)

    1. You’re right, it really is the little things that can make all the difference to the transition, and before you know it everything that was strange has become the new normal x

  5. These are really great tips! Things that may seem obvious while reading them, but wouldn’t always occur to you in the middle of an overseas move with all the stress and a million things to think about. I think it’s probably easier the younger the kids are. Now imagine adding to all the strangeness of moving to a different country, moving to a country where you don’t speak or understand the language! I have a five-year-old from the States in my kindergarten class whose family has moved here to Mexico, but he seems to have adapted really well and has picked up Spanish in no time.
    #MyExpatFamily

    1. I know! I didn’t discuss language as it’s (thankfully!) not something that we had to deal with – well, not too much anyway :) Although, I suspect that kids pick up languages far faster than we do…

    1. It is reassuring the know that others experience the same! Moving anywhere with kids in tow makes for an interesting experience, but there are certainly things that we can do to make it a bit easier x

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